David Cameron won a major boost when the Conservatives clinched a comfortable victory early today in the Newark by-election.
The party saw off a strong challenge from Ukip to retain the Nottinghamshire constituency, but saw its majority cut from more than 16,000 to 7,403.
The Tory candidate, Robert Jenrick, was elected with 17,431 votes and 45 per cent of the vote after the party poured massive resources into defending Newark, which was among its 50 safest seats at the last general election.
Roger Helmer, the former Tory Euro-MP who stood for Ukip, came a strong second with 10,028 votes and 26 per cent of the vote. The party had come a distant fourth in Newark in the 2010 general election with less than four per cent support.
Labour’s Michael Payne came third with 6,842 votes (18 per cent).
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats suffered their latest electoral humiliation by limping in sixth behind the Greens and an independent with just 1,004 votes and 2.6 per cent support.
The by-election was caused by the resignation of Patrick Mercer after he was caught up in a lobbying scandal.
Today’s victory marks the first time for a quarter of a century that the Tories have won a by-election victory when they have been in government.
Conservative strategists were desperate to see off Ukip, which topped the poll at last month’s Euro-elections. They will seize on the Newark result as evidence that the bubble is beginning to burst for Nigel Farage’s party.
David Cameron visited the constituency four times, while all Tory MPs were ordered to campaign in the by-election and up to 1,000 party activists blitzed the area on polling day.
Ukip also, in Mr Farage’s words, “threw the kitchen sink” at the contest but found itself up against a formidable Conservative organisation.
For it to have defied the odds and win the seat would have provided one of the biggest by-election upsets in British political history. However, Ukip’s showing last night will come as a relatively disappointing for the party given its stunning successes in the Euro and town hall elections.
Mr Jenrick, the 32-year-old Tory victor, said: “I want to thank the prime minister for his personal support to my campaign and I want to thank the Government for its commitment to re-building Britain.
“I hope now I can repay the faith and trust that the people of Newark have put in me as your new member of parliament - and in the months and years to come I can build a reputation as a strong and effective MP.“
Speaking ahead of the declaration, Mr Farage said: “This has been a stunning campaign that we've fought in a very short space of time. We've been up against probably the biggest ever Conservative machine, defending about their 40th safest seat in the country. If the indications are right, we'll be celebrating a massive advance for our party.”
Newark by-election: result in full
Robert Jenrick (Con) 17,431 (45%, -8.8%)
Roger Helmer (Ukip) 10,028 (25.9%, +22%)
Michael Payne (Lab) 6,842 (17.7%, -4.7%)
Paul Baggaley (Ind) 1,891 (4.9%)
David Kirwan (Green) 1,057 (2.7%)
David Watts (Lib Dem) 1,004 (2.6%, -17.4%)
Nick The Flying Brick (Loony) 168 (0.43%)
Andy Hayes (Ind) 117 (0.30%)
David Bishop (BP Elvis) 87 (0.22%)
Dick Rodgers (Stop Banks) 64 (0.17%)
Lee Woods (Pat Soc) 18 (0.05%)
Con majority 7,403 (19.13%)
15.5% swing Con to Ukip